Catalyst for Change

By Helen Plotkin
Editor

Hendrix College will be one of four institutions in the spotlight as the Research Corporation for Science Advancement celebrates its 100th anniversary with a year-long series of events that began with a gala evening at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., on March 14.

RCSA is recognizing the four institutions that have received more than $1 million from the foundation during its century of promoting faculty and student research as a vital component of science education. Between 1993 and 2009, Hendrix received more than $1.2 million in grants from Research Corporation, starting with a $588,185 Department Development Award for its chemistry and physics departments. The other three institutions being recognized are Hope College, Denison University and Bowdoin College.

According to Dr. Tom Goodwin, receiving the Department Development Award was a watershed moment for Hendrix. Goodwin, Elbert L. Fausett Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, led the effort to draft the grant proposal.

"We were the second grant recipient and the first private college to get a Department Development Award," Goodwin said. "We applied for funding to enhance both the chemistry and physics departments. We had at least one visit per year from Research Corporation program officers and we had four external consultants — two for chemistry and two for physics — working with us."

To get a Department Development Award, a college must provide evidence that they have a good program with the potential to move to the next level of excellence. The College was required to demonstrate that each member of the departments supported the effort and that the administration was willing to devote resources to keep the improvements in place once the grant ended.

The changes initiated by the grant have taken root and over the past two decades have not only transformed the chemistry and physics departments, but have helped spread a commitment to research and other experiential learning across the campus.

"It was not normal here for faculty to have sabbaticals before the Research Corporation grant," Dr. Goodwin said, but granting sabbaticals for faculty to hone their research skills was a requirement of the grant.

"It provided funding for chemistry and physics to each hire a new faculty member," he continued. "It provided money for technical support — someone to work in the stock room, help set up labs, etc. It provided start-up funds for research."

"Some of the things that we should have had to be a top-notch liberal arts college were put into motion by the Research Corporation grant," Goodwin said. For example, once the administration supported sabbaticals for the chemistry and physics departments, the practice spread across campus and support for research in other areas also expanded.

"It came through at the right time and it really helped us a lot. With the administration's support, we were able to make a real difference in science education for our students," Goodwin said.

In 1993, the College was planning a major capital campaign focusing on improving facilities for science education. At the end of the campaign, Hendrix had replaced or remodeled academic space for all of the natural sciences area, including renovating John. H. Reynolds Hall for mathematics and computer sciences, constructing Acxiom Hall for the chemistry and physics departments, and building the Donald W. Reynolds Center for Life Sciences to house the departments of biology and psychology. Led by Dr. Warfield Teague, Willis H. Holmes Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Chemistry, faculty members were heavily involved in creating spaces where faculty and students would work together to expand knowledge and understanding through research. Goodwin sees the Department Development Award as the catalyst for this expansion.

"And, I think it was one impetus for Odyssey — the idea that experiential learning, of which research is one example, has advanced to the point now that this is a hallmark of the Hendrix experience," Goodwin said. "The Research Corporation grant helped jump-start experiential learning on this campus."

The College's first record of funding from Research Corporation dates from the late 1970s when Dr. Goodwin received funding for a grant proposal he actually wrote before arriving on campus in the fall of 1978. Since then — in addition to the Department Development Award — several Hendrix professors have received what Research Corporation calls "Single-Investigator Cottrell College Science Awards" for projects such as Dr. Richard Rolleigh's ('67) study of transverse effects in semi-conductor lasers, Dr. Randy Kopper's work on peanut allergies, Dr. Robert Dunn's ring laser work, Dr. Andres Caro's research on reactive oxygen species, and, most recently, Dr. Courtney Hatch's ('00) 2009-11 grant for her project titled "Heterogeneous Processing of Mineral Aerosol by Reactive Gases in the Earth's Atmosphere."

In 2004, Dr. Liz Gron (who is the new chemistry faculty member hired with support from the 1993 department development grant) led efforts to acquire $100,000 from RCSA to fund a five-year proposal to strengthen the physical sciences at Hendrix through research and recruitment.

The impact of Research Corporation's support continues to ripple through the Hendrix community, improving the quality of teaching and learning across the campus. That should please Frederick Gardner Cottrell, a scientist, inventor and philanthropist, who founded RCSA in 1912. His concept for the foundation was to "provide catalytic funding for grants, conferences and advocacy to support early career faculty, innovative ideas for research, and building tomorrow's academic cultures."

For more information about Research Corporation, visit the foundation's website at www.rescorp.org.